Losing Battles ~ A Capsule Book Review

Losing Battles ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

It’s Granny Vaughn’s ninetieth birthday. Her large Mississippi family has gathered on a hot Sunday in August to mark the occasion. It’s the Depression era, 1930s, and nobody has much money, but Beulah Renfro, Granny Vaughn’s granddaughter, spreads a sumptuous meal for the hundred or so attendees. They eat like it’s going out of style.

Jack Jordan Renfro is the star of the reunion. He has plenty of aunts, uncles, cousins—besides his parents, his sisters and his granny—to fawn over him. He just got out of the penitentiary. We learn that he escaped the day before he was supposed to be released because he didn’t want to miss granny’s birthday celebration. He also has a wife named Gloria and a baby daughter, Lady May. Gloria was his schoolteacher he married before he went into the penitentiary. Gloria was an orphan child; nobody knows for sure who her parents were. One of the surprising things that’s revealed during the reunion is that she and Jack might be first cousins.

There are some surprise guests at the reunion, some old-time preaching, some arguing and much laughter, but, more than anything, there’s talk: talk about how Jack came to be sent to the penitentiary; talk of an old-maid schoolteacher, Miss Julia Mortimer, who has just died and whose funeral will be the day after the reunion; almost everybody at the reunion went to school to Miss Julia and they have stories to tell of her hardness and her dedication to teaching. There’s also talk of hard times and good times and bad times, births and deaths. Everybody likes to talk and they all have much to say.

Losing Battles is an unconventional novel because it takes place all in one day and part of the next day, which means there isn’t much story or plot. Get a hundred people from your family together for one day and then write down everything they say and do during that one day, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s an interesting book because of its setting (the South during the 1930s) and because it was written by a venerated American writer (her last novel), but it could have been more interesting if the action had been opened up a little bit, making the story less static.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp